Archive

March 2nd, 2016

The Killing Field

The killing field on the edge of town is marked by skulls and bones littering the ground, attracting vultures and hyenas.

There is little clothing, for the soldiers stripped the men and boys they seized. Spines have been sliced in half and clavicles shattered, suggesting that victims were clubbed to death or hacked apart with machetes. Some of the skulls might even belong to five staff members of Doctors Without Borders who were murdered here.

Atrocities happen all around the world, of course. But these were crimes against humanity committed by “our side” — by the government of South Sudan that the United States helped to install.

It’s impossible to calculate the death toll, but it seems to me plausible that as many civilians are dying in the war here in South Sudan as in Syria. One reason it’s hard to estimate is that many civilian deaths here come not from bullets or barrel bombs, but from starvation and disease arriving as a direct result of war and ethnic cleansing.

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The GOP's Frankenstein monster

    When the plague descended on Thebes, Oedipus sent his brother-in-law to the Delphic oracle to discover the cause. Little did he realize that the crime for which Thebes was being punished was his own. Today's Republican Party is our Oedipus. A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics. The party searches desperately for the cause and the remedy without realizing that, like Oedipus, it is the party itself that brought on this plague. The party's own political crimes are being punished in a bit of cosmic justice fit for a Greek tragedy.

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That Coke Can Is Back

    They were dramas that drilled into the most sensitive parts of the national psyche, searing and dividing us with lurid sexual images and racial grievances as old as the nation.

    They both started out as narratives about the mistreatment of women but were swiftly twisted into parables about the mistreatment of black men.

    Anita Hill went to the Senate in 1991 to testify about creepy sexual overtures by her former boss, Clarence Thomas, but Thomas made it to the Supreme Court by cowing the Democratic senators who were supposed to protect Hill. Thomas claimed that he, not she, was the victim. The senators were stunned and silenced when Thomas accused them of a “high-tech lynching.”

    Four years later, O.J. Simpson’s lawyers got him acquitted on charges of murdering the ex-wife he battered, Nicole, by turning it into what The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin called “a civil rights melodrama.” The lawyers argued the football and movie star was framed by a racist LA detective, which made O.J., not Nicole, the victim — another high-tech lynching.

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Sybil Ludington? Betty Zane?

    Do you know these women? Of course not, because this nation has not been nearly so zealous recording women's history as that of men.

    Every American school child knows about Paul Revere and his midnight ride. But few ever hear of Sybil Ludington and even fewer know of Betty Zane. Sybil Ludington's horseback ride in the dark of night--that same night--served the same purpose as that of Paul Revere and was nearly twice as long as his. Furthermore, she was only sixteen!

    When natives attacked a frontier fort in Virginia, it was teenager Betty Zane who saved the day by making a daring sprint to obtain essential gunpowder for the settlers. Somehow she has been overlooked in our history books.

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If Donald Trump Changed Genders

    Imagine, for a moment, the presidential candidacy of a rich, brash real estate magnate and reality TV star named Donna Trump.

    Quizzically coifed and stubbornly sun-kissed, she’s on her third marriage. There’s clear evidence that infidelity factored into the demise of the first, and among her children is one conceived when The Donna wasn’t married to the other parent.

    Her sexual appetites have been prodigious, at least according to her frequent claims and vulgar cant. And she has a tendency — disturbing on its own, even more so in someone who aspires to civic leadership — to talk about men as sirloins and rump roasts of disparate succulence. She denigrates those who displease her on cosmetic grounds:

    So-and-so used to be a 9 but, with that male-pattern baldness and desperate comb-over, is down to a 6. So-and-so thinks he’s covering up that paunch with baggy suits, but we all know better.

    How well do you think The Donna would do in the polls? How far into the race would she survive?

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It was far too easy for my son to buy guns

    I am not an expert on guns. I have never owned one, and my husband and I never kept one in the house. So when it comes to gun safety and reducing the number of mass shootings that take place in our country, I would be the last person to suggest there are easy answers. But I do have a tragically personal vantage point on the issue.

    Nearly 17 years ago, my son Dylan, and his friend Eric Harris, walked into Columbine High School carrying an array of firearms and explosives. They killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded more than 20 others. It was an incomprehensible tragedy that I have lived with every day of my life since. Why did Dylan do it? How could this have happened? These questions have consumed my every waking moment.

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Word bans at Harvard won't help racial justice

    "The term house master is and will remain a part of the college's long and proud history," wrote Michael D. Smith, Harvard University's dean of arts and sciences, in explaining Wednesday why the proud term was being abolished. Harvard's houses will henceforth be led by "faculty deans," a deliciously absurd coinage that I suppose will soon be coming to dormitories at other old colleges. To be fair, Harvard announced late last year that it was searching for alternatives to "master." Evidently the alumni fought a rearguard action hoping to have the term retained. I imagine that the alumni at Yale University, where I teach, are fighting the same action as they await the university's decision.

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Why we celebrate Black History Month

    We are in the waning hours of African American History Month - the time set aside each year to reflect on black struggles and sacrifices to achieve America's promise.

    My recognition of African American contributions began in the 1940s with annual celebrations of Negro History Week at Stevens Elementary School in my West End/Foggy Bottom community. Our nation's capital is also where I experienced firsthand America's shame.

    Liberty Baptist Sunday school taught me the Ten Commandments. Civil authority in the city taught me the others.

    Among them: Thou shalt not attend Grant Elementary School on G Street NW, which was for white children only. Thou shalt not attempt to enter the Circle Theater at 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where only whites were allowed. Thou shalt never think about dining downtown.

    Thou can purchase sodas and sandwiches at the drugstore at the corner of 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but thou shalt not sit and eat. Thou must stand at the end of the counter and wait patiently to be recognized.

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Why Apple's fight with the FBI is so hard to referee

    The fight between Apple and the U.S. government comes down to a technical enigma wrapped in layers of emotional debate.

    On the surface, people seem to be drawn to opposing sides depending on feelings: fear of terrorism, or suspicion of government, distrust of corporations.

    But the crux of the disagreement comes down to a technical question, not a gut feeling: whether it's possible for Apple to disable its own security system to break into a deceased terrorist's iPhone without jeopardizing the security of all iPhones.

    Since Apple software is proprietary, the answer to the technical question remains shrouded in uncertainty. Still, decisions need to be made, and good policy can be formulated in uncertain situations, just as health authorities had to respond to the Zika outbreak though little was known about its potential health consequences.

    In the Apple case, decisions will affect the way we balance the fight against terrorism with concerns over the erosion of privacy in a world increasingly dependent on smart phones to track and guide people's lives.

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Who's sweating now? Not Rubio

    For the first time in 10 Republican debates, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio owned the night.

    With his back against the wall, yet to win a nominating contest, Rubio didn't prove he would be a better president, but by going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump showed he had improved as a debater. What a big mistake it was to lay off Trump for months, afraid of blowback. With nothing left to lose, Rubio stopped playing nice. It might be in time.

    Rubio got his first digs in on immigration, attacking Trump's hiring of foreign workers instead of locals who wanted jobs at his hotels. The business tycoon paid a huge settlement for doing so. Rubio got even more personal on immigrant labor saying that if Trump were to build his wall along the Mexico border "the way he built Trump Tower, he'll be using illegal immigrants to do it."

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